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The excavations at Tel Mardikh in syria, 60 km south of Aleppo, were sensational, proving that this was the ancient Ebla. From previous inscriptions, scholars had assued that Ebla was an insignificant town in antiquity. Now Ebla is known to have been a large city of great political importance.
The most important finds at Ebla were the thousands of large cuneiform tablets which are still being studied. One of the Ebla finds, however, has proved baffling to the experts. In 1978 the team excavating a tomb they called “Tomb of the Lord of the Goats” found an ornate mace, consisting of a limestone head mounted on a handle made of ivory covered by silver leaf, which in turn was decorated with gold leaf. According to Scandone Mattiae, it was made in Egypt for King Hotepibre and was sent as a gift to the king of Ebla. He claimed that Hotepibre an obscure king of the Thirteenth Dynasty, was of Asiatic origin, ruling from Avaris, and had sent the mace as a gift ot the king of Ebla.
This scenario, however, produced some difficult questions. Now K. S. B. Ryholt, writing in BASOR, has debunked the whole affair. He writes, “There is, however, evidence to suggest that both the assumed Asiatic origin and the relation to Avaris are based on false assuptions. Nor is the attribution of the sceptre to Hotepibre of the Thirteenth Dynasty – and hence his relation to Ebla and northern Syria – beyond doubt.” (p. 1)
His article is primarily for the benefit of qualified Egyptologists and includes a detailed discussino of the hieroglyphic characters that will not be of interest to most of our readers. Suffice it to say that Ryholt points out that the identification is a contradiction of terms. The Hyksos kings who ruled from Avaris consisted of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Dynasties. He observes, “The sources presently available show that Hotepibre did not belong to that kingdom, but to the Thirteenth Dynasty.” (p. 3)
Engraved into the gold leaf on the mace were two baboons adoring four hieroglyphic signs which were read as “Hotepibre”. However Ryholt challenges this interpretation. He points out that the hieroglyphic characters are unevenly mounted. “The ‘htp’ sign is even turned upside down and the phonetic complement ‘p’ for ‘htp’ is missing. It is inconvceivable that such mistakes would have been made at the royal workshops in Egypt.” (p. 3)
Matthiae’s explanation is that maybe the signs somehow fell off and were later restored by a craftsman who was not so familiar with the hieroglyphs. Ryhold replies that this explanation does not account for the fact that the Egyptian name is not enclosed in a cartouche, the Egyptian sign denoting a royal name.
Matthiae suggests that perhaps the cartouche had originally been there but in the restoration it was forgotten. Ryholt points out that the small area of the gold leaf does not provide enough room for a cartouche in any case. Furthermore, if the original construction has been tampered with, how can we be sure that the incrption originally belonged to the mace. Perhaps the mace is of Syrian manufacture and decorated with hieroglyphs to give a pseudo-Egyptian appearance?
Ryholt concludes by saying, “It therefore seems inescapable that some relations did exist between Egypt and northern Syria. Unfortunately, it is difficult to go beyond this simple observation at present.” (p. 4)
This is all very interesting and rather amusing to the outsider. What is not remarked upon is the relation between the mace and the dating of the tomb in which it was found. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from all this is not the exact origin and nature of the object, but the need to receive with caution the “positive conclusions” of the scholars. They may later have to change their minds.